Unions have condemned General Motors’ announcement that Vauxhall’s Ellesmere Port plant would build the next generation Vectra, describing it as ‘a smokescreen’ and warning it could jeopardise the plant’s long-term future.
‘They may fool the general public that they’re doing a good thing safeguarding 1,200 jobs,’ said a spokesman, ‘but those jobs weren’t under threat.’
Vauxhall announced on Monday it would invest £200m to enable Ellesmere to become the ‘flex’ plant for the Vectra from 2002, topping up production in Russelsheim, Germany, when demand was high.
A company statement said that the decision would ‘protect over 700 jobs at Ellesmere which would have been lost with the planned elimination of the third shift, as well as 570 jobs at suppliers which would be threatened if the Vectra had been built outside the UK.
Ellesmere is currently working three shifts on Astra production as well as making engines, of which 80% are exported to the US. Just before Christmas Vauxhall announced its intention to close its Luton plant, which had been earmarked to build the new Vectra, with the loss of 2,220 jobs.
The result of a company-wide strike ballot in protest at the closure of Luton is expected today.
MSF general secretary Roger Lyons said that GM decided to close Luton because, in the UK, the political and commercial fallout would be less. But he said the decision to build the Vectra at Ellesmere could ‘put it in danger’.
He said the investment to retool to build the Vectra on the same line as the Astra will be considerable.
‘It could be manageable while the plant is running at full capacity, but as a flex plant it will only build Vectras as long as Russelsheim can’t produce enough. Eighteen months or two years after the launch, when demand dips, production will be cut.
‘Then Ellesmere will be carrying the fixed costs of retooling over a smaller volume, and come the next review of GM’s European operations its productivity will look worse.’
The union said the announcement would not undermine workers’ resolve in the strike ballot. ‘Ellesmere is in a good position. We did not expect them to back Luton as strongly as they have.’
A spokesman added that GM had made £1bn profit from Vauxhall in the last 10 years, and the figure had been rising until the last published accounts in 1999. ‘There is no economic case for the closure,’ he said.